Date: Sun, 9 Jul 1995 21:01:54 -0200
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (tim jenkin)
To: Multiple recipients of list <email@example.com>
Subject: Mayibuye July 1995
Obituary: Harry Themba Gwala (1920-1995)
Teacher, people's tribune, man of steel
Mayibuye, Journal of the African National Congress,
Vol. 6, no. 3
ANC and SACP stalwart Harry Gwala died on 20 June at the Midlands Medical
Centre after suffering a heart attack. He was buried in Pietermaritzburg on
Harry Themba Gwala was born in 1920 in New Hanover in the Natal Midlands.
The son of a Lutheran lay preacher, he graduated with a teacher's diploma
from Adams College. He taught at Slangspruit and one of his students was
Moses Mabhida, who later went on to become General Secretary of the SACP in
In 1942 Harry Gwala joined the Communist Party of South Africa, and two
years later he joined the ANC. Around this time he left teaching for trade
union work. He organised workers in the chemical and building industry and
formed the Rubber and Cable Workers Union in Howick.
In 1950 he was one of the organisers of the national stay-away, and was
listed as a communist and then banned. He worked at Edendale hospital, but
was fired for organising hospital workers into SACTU.
After the banning of the ANC in 1960, comrade Gwala was active in the
underground until his arrest in 1964. He was sent to Robben Island for
sabotage and recruitment of cadres into MK. Released in 1972, Gwala was
restricted to Pietermaritzburg, making it impossible for him to earn a
living as a teacher or in trade unions. He ran a laundry business, but used
his work as a cover for ongoing underground activity. He was in the
forefront of attempts to revive SACTU.
In 1976 he was arrested again, badly tortured, and charged under the
Terrorism Act. He was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.
In prison comrade Gwala was known for his tireless political educational
work. In particular, dozens of young political prisoners benefited from his
clear and effective teaching skills. While in prison, his wife Elda died
and he was not allowed to attend her funeral.
In the 1980s comrade Gwala suffered from a rare motor neuron disease. It
paralysed his arms, and led to his release in November 1988.
Despite the terrible, debilitating effects of the disease, Gwala's spirit
and commitment was absolutely unbroken. An electrifying speaker, he
inspired millions of our people. In recognition of his outstanding role in
the struggle, he was awarded the ANC's highest honour, the
Isitwalandwe-Seaparankoe Award on 8 January 1992.
He was elected as the first Chairperson of the ANC in the Natal Midlands
after the unbanning of the movement in 1990. In 1991, Gwala was elected to
the ANC National Executive Committee and to the Central Committee of the
After the April 1994 elections, Gwala became a Member of the KwaZulu-Natal
provincial legislature, serving also as the ANC's Chief Whip.
He is survived by his three daughters and grandchildren.